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Healthcare for British citizens in the EEA after a no-deal Brexit

Healthcare for British citizens in the EEA after a no-deal Brexit

This is an update on UK citizens’ and residents’ access to healthcare in the EEA and Switzerland if a no-deal Brexit happens on 31 October 2019.

The people who will be affected are those for whom the UK is currently paying for their healthcare in another EEA state or Switzerland under Regulation 883/2004. This includes:

  • UK residents temporarily “staying” (as opposed to “residing”) in an EEA state or Switzerland who travel with a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), including tourists, posted workers, students and others.
  • UK pensioners living in an EEA state or Switzerland who are receiving a UK State Pension or another exportable UK contributory benefit and have an “S1” form.

For these people, their EHIC or S1 form will no longer be valid after 31 October 2019 if there is no deal.

People who are working in an EEA state or Switzerland (other than posted workers) will normally already be enrolled in that state’s social security system and their access to healthcare should not be affected.

The Healthcare (European Economic Area and Switzerland Arrangements) Act 2019, which received Royal Assent on 26 March 2019 and came into force on the same day, allows the UK Government to make provision for post-Brexit healthcare. Clause 1 gives the Secretary of State power to make payments, and arrange for payments to be made, in respect of the cost of healthcare provided in an EEA state or Switzerland. The details of the schemes will be set out in regulations made by the Secretary of State under clause 2. It appears that no such regulations have yet been made.

The Act anticipates “healthcare agreements” between the UK and EEA states, Switzerland and/or an international organisation (presumably the EU), concerning (a) healthcare provided in an EEA state or Switzerland, payments in respect of which may be made by the government of the United Kingdom and/or (b) healthcare provided in the United Kingdom, payments in respect of which may be made by an EEA state or Switzerland. However, the wording of clauses 1 and 2 is clearly sufficiently wide to allow the UK Government to take unilateral action to fund healthcare abroad, even with no agreement. At the moment, we do not know what arrangements the Government intends to put in place under the 2019 Act.

Some EEA countries have unilaterally enacted legislation to protect British citizens’ healthcare after Brexit. If you are travelling to the EEA or Switzerland after 31 October 2019 you should check what arrangements have been put in place in the country to which you are travelling. It may be advisable to take out private insurance before you travel.

The UK has reached an agreement with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein (the members of the EFTA) which provides for continuation of healthcare after a no-deal Brexit.  See paragraph 29 of the Government’s explainer about the agreement.

David Neale is a legal researcher at Garden Court Chambers. He was a practising barrister from 2014 to 2018, specialising in immigration and asylum law.